Hope in a Bag

In 2010 when I started interviewing families to write my book, What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer, I didn’t know that it would also initiate positive and comforting services for our families at The Melodies Center.

I still remember interviewing Nick Bowen and his mom, Carol. At age 11, Nick was rushed to the hospital after he passed out in the tub. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and stayed in the hospital for weeks. Carol said, “All I brought with me was my pocketbook and my Bible.”

We don’t plan to be told that our child has cancer and not be able to go home. That was how the Nick’s Fight to be Healed Family Hope Bags developed. We thought, What would a family need for an emergency overnight stay at the hospital? Ideas for what this bag would contain came from an amazing warrior, Luke Romano. Luke dealt with cancer for seven years, so was an expert on preparing for hospital stays and what a family needs. Usually one parent has to stay with their child, so the Family Hope Bags are geared to support both. The “Red Bag” is delivered by the child life specialist or social worker when a child is diagnosed and inpatient.


There are essentials like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, hand sanitizer, hair brushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, hair ties, laundry detergent, and chapstick.


Being in a hospital and facing cancer is devastating, so we focus on making others comfortable. Having cozy socks, eye pads to block out the light, headphones to listen to music, a journal to write your thoughts and keep track of doctor notes are all included.


Hope and the connection is brought about by including a letter from a local family who has gone through what this family is now going through. We know how scared our families are and to have hope given by someone who have been there is priceless. This year we also had kids from Niskayuna Elementary School writes cards of comfort that are placed in every bag. They are thoughtful and compassionate notes.

Family Hope Bags are our most time consuming project, but it is also the most worthwhile. Besides the wonderful staff at The Melodies Center, these bags are the first line of comfort to get a family emotionally, financially, and physically through cancer treatment.


Everyone calls them the “Red Bag.” Surrounding this black front with white logos is a red duffle bag that families can carry back and forth to the hospital. Our wonderful sponsors donate gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, the cafe at the hospital, Panera, and the Recovery Sports Grill provides gift certificates to their restaurant. We couldn’t do this without them.

Annually, the Southern Saratoga YMCA has a drive to collect essential items and it makes a huge difference.

In addition to these initial gift cards, Nick’s Fight to be Healed provides gift cards each month for ongoing treatment that Angie, the clinic child life specialist, and Courtney, the social worker, hands out to families. Reducing stress is key to healing.

Emily Hayes, President of Nick’s Round Table, packs bags with all the supplies donated by our local sponsors, Nick’s Fight to be Healed, and Luke’s Legacy.
It takes hours of shopping, separating, copying, folding and packing these bags before they can be brought down to Albany Med. Between 70-90 bags are given to families each year.  That means up to 90 children are newly diagnosed with cancer each year just in our area. We have a lot of work to support our families and we do the best we can.

Amanda Hayes, Technology Chair for Nick’s Round Table, is at the other end of the assembly line.
Teens from Nick’s Round Table, along with their amazing leader, Annette Romano, shop and pack all these bags. It’s a daunting task, but they do it with joy on their faces, because they know how much these bags mean to families.

Dylan Nezaj, Vice-President of Nick’s Round Table, lends a much needed hand in organizing the Family Hope Bags.
It takes more than medicine to heal a child. It takes love, in-hospital services, comfort, and hope. Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation does this and needs your help to continue.

If you would like to donate gift cards from Target or Walmart to purchase supplies for these bags or gift cards in $25 increments to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Panera, or CVS, please mail them to:

NFTBHF, Family Hope Bag Program, PO Box 217, Rexford, NY 12148

If your company would like to sponsor this program, please contact Annette Romano at aromano12@nycap.rr.com

Thank you to our volunteers, our sponsors, and everyone who helps us in our mission.

Nick’s Round Table–Camelot at its Best

Two years ago when many of Nick’s friends who were members of Nick’s Round Table graduated, I feared that this incredibly motivated group would diminish. Under the guidance of Nick’s younger brother, Stephen, and an amazing board, this group has flourished. Although not everyone comes to the meetings, we have over 100 members of Nick’s Round Table who continue to help out when they are home from college or have started their own groups at their school.

Over the past two years, Nick’s Round Table has increased the media library at The Melodies Center Clinic, shopped and handed out over 50 Nick’s Comfort Bags, put together 160 Family Hope Bags, implemented the Holiday program where families received bags of food for Thanksgiving and gifts for Christmas, raised money at Nick’s Run with a very fun carnival, and are in the process of installing a Teen Technology Room at the new HEMONC rooms on D7 at Albany Medical Center. This is on top of keeping up with school, jobs, sports and other extracurricular activities.

Stephen has told me that he’s concerned about the future of Nick’s Round Table when he leaves and that Nick’s spirit is what guides this group. This is something that can’t be forgotten. Now he didn’t mean that by him leaving it would fall apart. What he meant was that as the founding members, of which he was one, leave how do we keep the spirit of Nick alive among young adults who didn’t know him? For example, we hand out Double Bubble gum at our July 4th parade because that was Nick’s favorite.

I believe that Stephen and the other seniors who were very close to Nick and Stephen have built a very strong and durable foundation for this group. Plus, they have a very positive and emotionally charged new board who will do astounding things this year.

Thank you to the outgoing board:
Stephen Cammarata, President
Katie Collins and Sammie Sagnelli, Co-vice presidents
Emily Hayes, Treasurer
Julia Geisel, Secretary
Dante Cilento, Fundraising Chair
Emily Patchell, Media Library Chair
Colin Rowe, Technology Chair

Welcome to the new board:
Katie Collins and Sammie Sagnelli, Co-presidents
Erin Doescher and Kendra Sisco, Co-vice presidents
Emily Hayes, Treasurer
Becca Abel, Secretary
Lauren Sawicki and Elizabeth Sibson, Co-Fundraising Chairs
Maddy Healy, Media Library Chair
Kate Isaksen, Technology Chair

L-R: Katie Collins, Sammie Sagnelli (cancer survivor), Erin Doescher, Kendra Sisco (cancer survivor), Emily Hayes, Becca Abel, Lauren Sawicki (not pictured: Elizabeth Sibson, Maddy Healy, Kate Isaksen)

None of they could have been done without our wonderful liaisons Diane Lange, Barb Brosnan, Annette Romano and Ann Frantti. Their guidance has been invaluable. Ann and Stephen have developed a wonderful relationship that spans generations and I think she will miss Stephen’s unique form of running a meeting!

Stephen and Ann Frantti who always understood Stephen’s thought process! Thank Goodness!

Stephen and me at the last annual gathering. We always had a great time bantering!

As I try not to think about being an empty nester in 44 days, I am so very thankful for all the teens in my life. They will not only keep Nick’s Round Table going strong in their mission to help other teens fight cancer, but they will keep me busy when I miss Stephen. Not only will I miss his craziness, loud music, and texting me for food (when he is in his room!), but I will miss running meetings with him. This group has brought us so close and I can’t imagine not having Stephen at a meeting like I have for the last 5 years. But I thank him for choosing to devote so much of his time to his brother’s memory. I look forward to working with so many new volunteers and continually building Nick’s legacy. Nick knew what he was going when he brought them all my way!

Thank you to all the graduates for your time and dedication and good luck in your future endeavors!

Some of Nick’s Round Table members preparing for July 4th parade!